Fall passed all too quickly for Bukharin, and soon it was being replaced by the stinging cold of winter. He liked Vienna, the bustle in the streets, and the artistic feel during the summer. He had even gone so far as to befriend a few of the painters that he liked the most. Sometimes they would visit, and sometimes they would send friends. Usually they were just peddlers looking to sell their art, and even though Kolya had a modest budget, he still tried to entertain them because he was especially interested in their ideas on socialism.
But today he had no need of guests. He already had one more than distinguished guest, one who had been there for weeks already and intended to stay a little longer. They had been working for days on what would come to be known as “Marxism and The National Question.” A question that would eventually create a chasm between Bukharin and Lenin.
Kolya neared the table of his friend and sat down behind him stroking his thin red beard. “Any luck at reconciliation today?” Kolya smiled putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Ach, well it’s obvious, Kolya…You’re right. Marx’s stance is clear. He calls for a unified rebellion, the idea is to overcome nationalities and join in the greater class struggle. But Lenin believes that unification is an elitist principal.”
“Hmmm, yes, Soso, that’s what I’ve been saying all along.” Just then there was a knock at the door. Kolya got up to go get it.
“Are you expecting visitors?”
“No, but it is a cold day, sometimes the poorer artists come by to share some heat, and I make sure they get an avid discussion on Bolshevism.” He smiled at his guest.
“Well good, maybe they can be of help with the topic of Nationalism.” Kolya opened the door to reveal a fresh sheet of snow outside their small wooden door. Outside was a young man about the same age as Kolya. He was wearing a thick old coat that was beaten and battered from years of use. He stood nearly a head taller than Bukharin, something Kolya didn’t find odd as he was only 5’ tall. Indeed, Kolya and Soso made quite the pair; Kolya was 5’ with a large balding forehead, his red hair poking out from the sides of his head and chin. Soso on the other hand was a little taller at 5’4” with a tall head of brown hair and a thick well-groomed mustache that reached just beyond the corners of his cheeks. The man in front of Kolya also had a short thick mustache and light brown hair. He looked cold and he was carrying a painting.
“My good sir, did my friends tell you where you could find me?”
“Yes, you were recommended by a certain Rupert.”
“Rupert, eh? Good man that Rupert. Well come in then, don’t just stand outside freezing to death, it’s deathly cold today.” The man entered gratefully as Kolya shut out the last swirling spray of wind and snow from the outside. Kolya turned around to see the man standing awkwardly looking at Stalin. Kolya had forgotten that Soso didn’t speak much German. After all, that was why Lenin had sent him to Kolya in the first place.
“I don’t mean to intrude sir.”
“Oh no, don’t even bother, this is my friend Soso, and I think you couldn’t have come at a better time.” The man looked hesitantly as Kolya. “I’ll explain in just a moment, but it seems we’re stumped by a certain ideal.” His voice trailed off as he pulled up a seat for the man and headed for the tiny kitchen in the corner. “I’ll get you some tea while we’re at it, and at the end I’d love to take a look of that painting of yours.”
Soso looked up friendly at the newcomer and said hi in his thick Georgian accent. The man smiled back at Soso and silence took over as the two waited for their translator to return. A moment or two later Kolya was back and sitting in between his older friend and the new young man.
“So…where was I? Oh yes, I remember. Soso and I have been given the task of writing about Nationalism and its place in Marxism. You have had a first-hand view on Austrian Nationalism. Right you are Austrian?” The man nodded, “so what is your take on Nationalism?” The man smiled and cleared his throat; Kolya thought it a bit odd how polite this young mendicant man was.
“Well sir, in Austria we’ve got the short end of the stick. All of the German states were united to form a new state except for our Austrian state. Instead, we find ourselves dependent on Hungary and Bohemia and all the rest of the Balkans. Our state as it is, is incongruous. We don’t have a fundamental language structure. The Slavs don’t mix with the Germans and the Hungarians don’t mix with either. It’s too multi-cultural for my liking, and I think it’s too multi-cultural to be ruled. I think Austria would be better off rejoining the rest of the Germans. That’s where we’ll find identity.” He stopped as Kolya finished translating for Soso.
“But then you tolerate the Czechs right? So what makes you tolerate them?” The man thought for a second.
“I tolerate them because I have to. I believe a war is brewing in Europe, and I would be afraid to fight for the Empire. It’s too diverse. The Hungarians would kill me just as fast as an enemy force would.”
“Hmmm, now that’s probably true. But what about a loose confederation, do you think that would work?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean a loose juncture of states, each autonomous, but loosely connected into an empire?”
“As in Austria and Bohemia and Hungary right?”
“Yes that’s right.”
“Well let’s say a war does break out, why would I as a German come to the defense of the Czechs when I have no relation to them.”
“Well you would because if you lose their industries it would weaken your empire and in turn weaken your country.”
“But it’s small enough it can be spared right?”
“Perhaps…” Kolya smiled, “so your point of view is Nationalism is the best scenario?”
“Well yes, of course.”
“Haha, that’s easy enough said from a German perspective. You have a large swath of Germanic tribes, you’re not going anywhere soon. But what about those smaller populations? Your point is that there is no point to protect them because they would kill you even if you tried. And if the larger populations don’t protect them then who’s to keep them from being swept away like sand in the wind?”
The man was silent for a moment. “Nothing I guess.”
“Ha, and there we have it. That’s the unfortunate byproduct of Nationalism. The idea that somehow mankind’s races make them…incongruous, that was the word you used right? But what if there was something bigger? Something deeper that united all of us? And here, and since you are one sharp young man I’m guessing you already guessed, I’m speaking of the greater class struggle. The ideal that deep down at the heart of every man lies the same struggle. The struggle to be free, to live just as well as the next man lives. Isn’t that right?”
“I don’t know sir. As you can see, I am a poor man, and even though I was not always this way, it’s evident to me that there is not something inside of men that makes them want to be equals. Men want to be greater than each other. They want to have power and riches over others. That’s just the way we are. It is a utopian dream to believe that if men were given a chance for equality that they would take it. No, men must be coerced and forced to conform and grow together. Too many options and they will grow apart, and then only the strongest will survive.”
“Well said, my comrade, spoken like a true student of Nietzsche. But then we are missing something. Something unites populaces in nationalities. That could be used to unite a larger populace right?”
“Well what then?”
“Fear and freedom.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, for example in Austria or in Russia the fear of what the police might do unites us, so we stay a part of the empire for fear of retribution. But freedom can also be used as a weapon to unite someone. Because once people have freedom, they are afraid it will be taken away, and so they will be more cautious and better caretakers of their freedom.”
“Ach, my comrade, it’s so clear now, I knew we just needed a fresh mind. And in this case a brilliant one.” Kolya turned to speak to Soso growing more and more animated as the time passed. After a while of sipping tea, Kolya remembered to look at the painting. It was a gorgeous watercolor. Certainly not the best Kolya had ever seen, and slightly overpriced, but Kolya congratulated the young man even if he didn’t have the money to buy it. After the young man had warmed up and had chatted for a while he got up to go. Kolya got up to show him the door and Soso arose to shake his hand.
Kolya watched him disappear into the blizzard outside before returning to Soso. “Not a bad chap eh? Wish he was a socialist.”
Soso looked pensively back, “he is a socialist; he just doesn’t know it yet. What was his name by the way? I didn’t want to ask.” Kolya thought for a moment stroking his beard absentmindedly.
“Let me think…I think it was ummm…Adolf…Adolf Hitler.”